Shaheen Bagh, Sharjeel Imam and invisible theatre around Delhi Election

The role of Sharjeel in the whole political theatre is not giving up on truth. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

Snehashish Das

Should the marginalized communities of this country rejoice over the victory of AAP over BJP where they garnered a 62:8 seat share? The Sun rises in the west ever since our citizenship has reduced to the choice between Vedic Brahminism and modern- secular Brahminism—a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Our personhood has turned into euphoria over not being massacred—but rather saved by the INC, Shiv Sena or AAP—who have hitherto crushed our aspirations and politics. Babasaheb Ambedkar had warned us about this much earlier; in his words—”In my judgement, it is useless to make a distinction between secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins. Both are kith and kin. They are two arms of the same body. One is bound to fight for the existence of the other.”

Should we eulogise the person, who welcomed the most controversial verdicts of the Supreme Court on Babri Masjid and the abrogation of article 370—which distanced the Muslims of this country from the deliverance of justice— who is to be the Chief Minister of Delhi again? Arvind Kejriwal, who claims to represent the lower rungs of the society, reduced the systematic violence on Muslims during the demolition of the Babri Masjid and subsequent events into ‘disputes’; he celebrated the decades-old massacres and silencing in Kashmir, and in return, asked people to maintain ‘peace’ without justice. Arvind Kejriwal also has been a strong voice against Reservation policies and had led the forum named ‘Youth For Equality’ which started opposing OBC reservation and of other kinds in 2006, on the other hand had welcomed the dilution of Reservation Policy by supporting the introduction of EWS reservation, on the basis of economic status—whereas reservation is meant to be given only on social and educational basis. He played his part in Brahminical politics of bringing the concept of poverty to the arena of reservation and the idea of ‘poor’ into politics to delegitimise the idea and politics of the Bahujans—which gives an alternate imagination of the state by rejecting upper caste supremacy and saviour complexes to give the marginalised their deserving political power. Ambedkar’s warning has turned real; the unorganised secular Brahmins have supported and defended the agendas of the centralised Vedic Brahmins in power. The victory of AAP has remained another day of alienation and subordination for the marginalised.

While BJP made Shaheen Bagh the prop for its election propaganda to spew Hindu supremacist venom over the Muslim community, AAP deliberately tried to depoliticise Shaheen Bagh as not a ‘real’ issue over schools, hospitals, electricity and water. The contestation and drama around ‘real’ turned Shaheen Bagh into a political theatre. Is the Muslim question for their rights and identity for which many have been sleeplessly sitting in the cold nights not ‘real’? Is the fear of citizenship and detention camps less ‘real’ than education, health, electricity, etc? This theatre was so well-choreographed that Ram Bhakt Gopal dramatically went back towards silently-watching cops—while he pointing a gun at peaceful protesters. He then fired his gun while they remained the mute spectators—merely metres away from them. Astonishingly, he became a ‘juvenile’; many evidences on his past and his real age were erased. The narrative then shifted to if whether Shaheen Bagh shooter, Kapil Gujjar, is a BJP agent or an AAP member. Shaheen Bagh must not be the the theatrical space and this drama must be resolved in the ‘excellent relationship between Modi and Kejriwal’ —as stated by Kejriwal in a recent interview with Burkha Dutt.

While BJP outrightly sees the people of Shaheen Bagh as anti-national elements and ‘Islamists’ who pollute their pure Hindu Rashtra, Kejriwal understands them as an ‘inconvenience’ who have blocked the highway—and must be taken down immediately using police forces. He declared that he would have opened the Shaheen Bagh road in two hours if the police were under his jurisdiction—and that was an improvisation made Kejriwal win admiration for him from the Hindu audiences. In this grand political theatre, the role of Sharjeel Imam and ilk has been crucial, as they have been working as mediators between the state and the people, the art and the audiences.

In one amongst his speeches in Shaheen Bagh, Sharjeel explains “hum sadak band kiye hain, raasta nahi” (we have blocked the road, not the way). From the beginning, Shaheen Bagh has allowed emergency vehicles such as ambulances—so why has Kejriwal been so fearful of Shaheen Bagh? Why has he been inconvenienced?

The protest of Shaheen Bagh has become an enduring symbol of the demonstrations that have swept India over the anti-Muslim citizenship law. Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

Shaheen Bagh has become an invisible theatre, not just by these political parties who are not present there—who have been directing the whole drama around it for the last Delhi assembly election—but also by many of those secular-liberal masses who are present. The manufacturing of such theatrics in Shaheen Bagh was necessary to construct an imaginary distinction between ‘bad Hindutva’ and ‘good Hinduism’. These are merely upper caste attempts of providing shelter to their caste privileges and power; it buries anti-caste discourses which are fundamentally against Hinduism. Such theatrics were also a precondition to AAP’s win in the Delhi election by presenting ‘good upper caste Hindus’ as the saviour of the oppressed against the ‘bad upper caste Hindutva brigades’. And this has turned real, not just in Shaheen Bagh, but in many parts of India with such secularising narratives of Hinduism.

Arvind Kejriwal at AAP headquarters after massive victory over BJP in Delhi election: Photo: Shakeeb KPA/Maktoob

Shaheen Bagh is the manifestation Plato’s fear of theatre/poetry coming true. In Plato’s fear, the audiences are manipulated by the actors and begin to imitate them. However, here, the audience didn’t participate in—what Aristotle calls a ‘tragedy’; not to imitate the actors by perform the opposite, accomplishing by means of pity and fear the ‘katharsis’ of these states and feelings. We have witnessed how people have unquestioningly mimed Gandhi’s ‘Sarva Dharma Parthana’ (All Religion Prayers by Gandhi) and the 1956 amended version of the Preamble of the Constitution of India. It’s because of this mimesis that I have considered Shaheen Bagh to be a theatre; a political theatre, since a political consciousness is under construction through the act of mimesis to the further state formation against BJP, but of AAP or other liberal upper caste ruled governments. And with this theatricality, the truth has been distorted. People aren’t posing the question of truth to liberal-secular actors on the stage, as they are questioning the BJP, thus are not participating in ‘tragedy’.

The distortion of truth has been manifested when we see Ambedkar and Gandhi’s photos together, when we hear Jai Bhim slogans along with Jai Shri Ram, and when we see a Havan taking place in a Muslim area. Gandhi, who had banned veiled women into his Ashram and asked to tear it down, has now has made his space into a pious Muslim space as a photograph in the hand of veiled Muslim women. A space which believes in ‘No God but Allah’, ‘a formless God’, has now been secularised into the belief of the existence of multiple gods—and having forms such as Ram and Hanuman. Such secularization has created the line between truth and blasphemy blurred; the eternal verity of Muslim subjecthood has been distorted through the act of mimesis. Gandhi and Ambedkar have come together overlooking the great historical tussle between them both during the Poona Pact and their discourse on the identity of ‘Harijan’. A Brahmin was invited to hold a Havan alongside the photograph of anti-caste leader Babasaheb Ambedkar. In my observations, Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Constitution, have become mere icons used for a purpose by losing the truth of themselves. They are the kind of arts which the spectators have been looking at, owning them, without knowing the technicalities of them and the truth of them.

This is from where Sharjeel Imam enters into the picture. Sharjeel Imam narrates Muslim politics, anti-caste consciousness, the truth of Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the technicalities of the Constitution—rather than invoking mere theatrics to let the people imitate with the loss of truth. Sharjeel Imam was engaged in building an alternative consciousness by presenting the people with truth. In his speech that was delivered in AMU, part of what deemed to be ‘seditious’ to the state and the Brahminical media, he was talking about the ideology and work of Gandhi in building a Hindu majority, the fact that the left and liberals use Muslims for their nefarious politics, and rather invoking the grand theatrics of the ‘why Gandhians, the left, and Ambedkarites coming together’ by manipulating or hiding the truth of all of them from the public. Of course, the truth he is speaking of can be contested, yet what important is he has created a space for truth to happen, to be contested through perspectives, for ideology to flourish, rather making a platform where Ambedkar, Gandhi, constitution remain mere icons or photographs, thus mere arts, who cannot speak the very truth of themselves independently in that very space. The role of Sharjeel in the whole political theatre is not giving up on truth.

It is thus imperative to investigate the truth. BJP is, in reality, (radically) following the line of Congress—which introduced AFSPA in border regions, who introduced state bans on cow slaughter, Aadhaar, Operation Green Hunt, etc. Or CPI(M), who introduced the concept of Love Jihad to the Hindu masses. CPI(M) has charged countless Muslims under UAPA in Kerala. This is the reason why Sharjeel Imam has been declared as seditious by AAP, Congress, and other so-called ‘progressive’ parties. AAP, for example, demanded his arrest within 24 hours and performed an improvisation at the large theatre of democracy before Delhi election. It’s fairly obvious that this play was scripted by the BJP. Regardless, whether BJP wins or loses, Brahminism wins. Other sections of the left-liberal cartel have been silent on his arrest as he exposed their inner Brahminism for what it really is. This is why the liberal narrative of ‘revolution from the ground’ is a false narrative. Our agency has been manipulated by secular, nationalist actors. Only intellectuals from our own community must lead the movement by creating grassroot networks. Eschew the drama.

The Delhi election presented a secular Hindu narrative. This has been manifested by a progressive section of caste Hindu society that operates under the binary of ‘Hindutva-Hinduism’. This happened in Shaheen Bagh too. Kejriwal arose as a strong harmless Hanuman Bhakt by reciting Hanuman Chalisa in the media. It’s important to note that this reference arose in reference to the Hindutva brigade’s invocation of Ram. Ram has now become an antithesis to secular Hindu society as his name has been invoked in the name of Hindutva and has been used to shed Muslim blood, and it actually happened on earth, in history. Not because he was a Brahmanical-patriarchal God in the myth. Hence, Kejriwal invoked Hanuman—to draw a distinction between ‘good Hindus’ and ‘bad Hindus’. Keep in mind though, that Ram murdered Sambhuka—a Shudra muni—for being educated. Hanuman burnt the Bahujan empire of Lanka for his pride— both these characters perpetuate symbolic violence on Bahujan society and other marginalised communities. This has hitherto existed since these Brahmanical characters demonised our existence. Thus, there was a birth an antithetical reference of ‘Ravan’ (Chandrashekar Azad), challenging the binary of Ram and Hanuman from the anti-caste movement- to save it against secularisation and idealisation of Hinduism. Yet, such theatrics has only benefited the caste Hindus, who have used it for their political mileage.

The marginalised need to invoke truth; the truth that comes from our own history—rejecting Gandhi’s Ram Rajya and Savarkar’s Holy Land which are nothing but ‘Bahiskruta Bharat’ for Babasaheb Ambedkar. We need to speak up about Phule’s Bali Rajya or Ambedkar’s Prabuddha Bharat—or such references which the marginalized will imagine together for further state formation. Both, the Vedic Brahmins and the modern secular ‘saviour’ Brahmins, will fall from the throne, and we’ll only rejoice when we imagine and form the state with the ideology of equality, liberty and fraternity.

Snehashish Das is a student of M.A. in Sociology at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, JNU

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